Inspired by a need first cited by a column by lawyer Andrew Fischer in the Boston Cyclists Union’s Union Rider newsletter last year, state Rep. William Brownsberger has introduced a new piece of legislation that takes a shot at giving bicyclists who cross streets from bike paths and greenways greater protection.
The proposed state law pertains only to crosswalks and simply adds the word “bicyclists” to language that already exists to protect pedestrians. If the law were passed, any driver who does not yield to a pedestrian or a bicyclist in a crosswalk would be subject to a $200 fine. Furthermore, a driver who strikes a pedestrian or a bicyclist with their vehicle could not use as part of their defense in a court of law that that person walking or on a bike failed to stop at a stop sign, yield sign, or other traffic control device.
Based on reactions from the blogosphere and the Boston Herald’s “war on bikes” correspondent Chris Cassidy, that last bit is giving some people the wrong impression. And it should be made clear that the Boston Cyclists Union was not involved in creating this legislation. Nor does the union take a position on it. We’re here to provide you with the information so you can decide.
This is the first time this kind of legislation has been put forward in Massachusetts to our knowledge, and often the wording of a particular bill changes before it becomes law. It is clear from experiences elsewhere in the country and common sense that something should be included that would indicate
cyclists can proceed only at a “reasonably safe speed” as has been suggested in Oregon, and it is also possible that a different kind of marking should be developed for crossings with bike paths attached to differentiate them from normal intersections, but there is a real need here to find a
way to hold drivers responsible for crashes that happen at crossings along the SW Corridor and other urban greenways. It is unfair to allow a larger more powerful vehicle run over a vulnerable road user without consequence.
When cyclists are hit at these crosswalks, the injuries can be quite serious, and drivers are not held responsible because the cyclist did not dismount. When you are on a bicycle you are considered to be in a vehicle, therefore riding in a crosswalk is not in accordance with legal behavior. But because no cyclist in practice dismounts at every crosswalk on their commute (not even grandparents or grandchildren), there is only the weakest of protections for thousands of people daily at intersections between bike paths and roads all over the state.
The aim of this bill, according to Brownsberger, is safety. And Andrew Fischer, who helped craft the bill’s language, maintains the same.
“In this state if someone doesn’t wear a seat belt, they can get a ticket for it,” said Fischer, drawing an analogy to a cyclist running a stop sign. “But if you cream someone in your car and they’re not wearing a seat belt, you don’t get a free ride just because they’re not wearing a seat belt. And this is the same thing.”